Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

John Steinbeck, fully John Ernst Steinbeck

American Author known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. Winner of Nobel Prize in Literature.

"Humilities are piled on a soldier... so in order that he may, when the time comes, be not too resentful of the final humility - a meaningless and dirty death."

"A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ."

"A dying people tolerates the present, rejects the future, and finds its satisfaction in past greatness and half-remembered glory."

"I know this - a man got to do what he got to do."

"Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments."

"It is in the nature of a man as he grows older... to protest against change, particularly change for the better."

"No one wants advice - only corroboration."

"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. "

"I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit. "

"No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself. "

"Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power. "

"In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. "

"Time is the only critic without ambition. "

"It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second. "

"Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love."

"I wonder how many people I've looked at all my life and never seen."

"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about."

"All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal."

"I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?"

"But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not."

"When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you've got two new people."

"When a child first catches adults out -- when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just -- his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child's world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing."

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."

"People who are most afraid of their dreams convince themselves they don't dream at all."

"To be alive at all is to have scars."

"An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There's a punishment for it, and it's usually crucifixion"

"There's more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty."

"Maybe everybody in the whole damn world's scared of each other."

"It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it."

"Intention, good or bad, is not enough."

"It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him."

"Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man."

"Life passes by in a wink so try to never miss a moment of it."

"Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy - that's the time that seems long in the memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all."

"I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction."

"I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless."

"If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck."

"There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension."

"No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us."

"It would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be loved without satiety"

"If we could learn to like ourselves, even a little, maybe our cruelties and angers might melt away."

"I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments."

"No gift will ever buy back a man's love when you have removed his self-love."

"The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does."

"Strange how one person can saturate a room with vitality, with excitement. Then there are others, and this dame was one of them, who can drain off energy and joy, can suck pleasure dry and get no sustenance from it. Such people spread a grayness in the air about them."

"You know most people live ninety per cent in the past, seven per cent in the present, and that only leaves them three per cent for the future."

"[Man] is the only animal who lives outside of himself, whose drive is in external things—property, houses, money, concepts of power. He lives in his cities and his factories, in his business and job and art. But having projected himself into these external complexities, he is them. His house, his automobile are a part of him and a large part of him. This is beautifully demonstrated by a thing doctors know—that when a man loses his possessions a very common result is sexual impotence."

"In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted shortcuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world."

"A book is like a man - clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun."

"Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms."